|Jefferson OKs seizure of retirement savings|
Action is approved if he is found guilty
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
By Bill Walsh - NOLA.com
WASHINGTON -- Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, agreed Monday to let the government seize his congressional retirement savings if he is convicted of federal bribery, fraud and racketeering charges.
If found guilty, he also agreed to fork over a sizable chunk of what he is owed from his former New Orleans law firm to repay what the government said are illegally gotten gains.
Jefferson has maintained his innocence in the face of the 16-count indictment handed up by a northern Virginia grand jury June 4. Nonetheless, he signed his name to a consent agreement Monday to dip into his retirement investments and law firm stock to pay the $456,800 the government said would be owed if a jury convicts him of all charges.
He is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 16.
The agreement puts further financial pressure on the congressman who complained last month after the indictment that the government is trying to "break" him, psychologically and financially.
As part of its indictment, the Department of Justice put the congressman on notice that it would seek to reclaim $478,153 in what it said were bribes paid to companies controlled by the Jefferson family. The largest portion was $456,800 paid to the ANJ Group LLC, a company that listed Jefferson's wife, Andrea, as manager.
But assets already identified by the government "are insufficient to fully discharge the forfeiture liability Defendant Jefferson may have should he be convicted of all charges," according to a document filed Monday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle.
As a result, the government is seeking additional Jefferson assets. If convicted, Jefferson agreed to hand over up to $385,000 held in his congressional retirement account, known as the federal Thrift Savings Plan, and as much as $71,800 of the proceeds from the 1990 buyout of his share of his former law firm.
Its unclear how much the nine-term congressman has invested in his retirement account, but his stake in the law firm, once known as Jefferson Bryan & Jupiter, is valued at between $250,001 and $500,000 in House financial disclosure forms.
Not every court allows pretrial freezing of assets. In the 4th Circuit, the government is allowed to pursue "substitute" assets if the original assets identified in the indictment aren't sufficient to cover the alleged liability.
The indictment alleges that Jefferson pressured telecommunications executive Vernon Jackson to funnel money disguised as consulting fees to the ANJ Group over several years in exchange for his official assistance in getting his company, iGate Inc., contracts in West Africa.
Jefferson's attorneys declined to comment. By agreeing to potentially forfeit his retirement savings and law firm stock, Jefferson may have exercised some control, however slight, over his possessions. If he hadn't agreed, the government could have presumably sought to seize more personal possessions, such as his house, to pay what it says is owed if he is found guilty.
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Bill Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7817.
Rep. William Jefferson: Maintains innocence in 16-count indictment